Les Darcy Australian Boxer: If there are any valuable lessons to be learned from the sport of boxing, one of those must surely be: Never flee Australia for the United States in order to escape compulsory military service, but if you do, at all costs avoid having dental work done there to replace teeth knocked out during a bout.
Les Darcy learned that lesson the hard way, dying 24 May 1917 from septicemia he contracted from an encounter with a dentist ill versed in dental instrument sanitation, which led to further medical complications. He was just 21 years of age. On balance, it is easy to speculate that by escaping death at the hands of the Germans in World War I, his decision to leave his homeland was a logical one. The irony of a fighter not wanting to fight, only to lose his life from something as routine as going to the dentist, necessitated by his participation in the “sweet science,” as boxing is sometimes known, is inescapable.
At the time, Australia was home to just over five million people, approximately the same number living in present day Colorado of the United States. By the end of the First World War, close to 10 percent of the entire population of the country, almost 417,000 of Australia’s men of fighting age had voluntarily enlisted, which demonstrates perhaps that it was not a distaste for fighting that caused the political discord, but the idea of mandatory participation that accounted for the ruckus.
By the War’s end, 60,000 of those volunteers had been killed. Another 156,000 were wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. The combined figure represents over half of the volunteer force. Not to make light of the tremendous magnitude of the sacrifice of Australia’s courageous volunteers, those figures do not reveal whether any soldiers were killed or injured by German dentists.
Politics aside, here is a brief examination of the career of one of Australia’s greatest boxers.
Born 31 October 1895, James Leslie Darcy hailed from Maitland, NSW. All boxers require a nickname and Darcy’s was The Maitland Wonder, perhaps not the most imaginative, at least not by comparison to Daniel ‘Real Deal’ Geale or Anthony ‘The Man’ Mundine, but knowledgeable boxing sources rank Darcy in the top five all-time on Australia’s Greatest Boxer lists.
He fought at a time when there were not seemingly infinite sanctioning bodies or a weight classification for every kilogram or fraction thereof.
Darcy’ abilities were such that he held titles in both the middleweight and heavyweight divisions. Unlike Mundine, who did not take up boxing until the age of 25, when his rugby career ceased to advance or hold his interest, Darcy had his first amateur bout at the age of fifteen, a decision over George ‘Governor” Balser in December of 1910 in Thornton, NSW.
Darcy followed that with six more amateur victories before turning professional in February of 1912. He defeated Peter Cook first up and remained undefeated until a November 1913 loss to Bob Whitelaw in a fight held at the Victoria Theatre in Newcastle, NSW. That was his 24th fight and the Australian welterweight title was on the line. The match took 20 rounds, with Whitelaw being awarded the victory by decision.
Darcy won his next two with technical knockouts of a British boxer named Jack Clarke, and three weeks later, a quick five round TKO against Young Hanley.
That set up a rematch against the only boxer to have beaten Darcy, Bob Whitelaw. It was a non-title bout because Darcy had outgrown the welterweight division. He dispatched Whitelaw in five rounds and showed a new tactic of not wasting any time getting the measure of his opponent. He needed only four rounds to dispose of Billy McNabb, with who he had gone 20 in the contest just prior to his first career loss to Whitelaw.
He switched to American opponents next with consecutive bouts against Fritz ‘Flying Dutchman’ Holland, a leading American middleweight. The first was a 20 round loss to Holland and the first time Darcy appeared in Sydney. The two men met again two months later at the same venue. Darcy was DQ’ed in the 18th round for a foul on 12 December 1914, shortly after Britain had declared war on Germany.
After a rest of three weeks, Darcy returned to the ring for just under 15 minutes to knock out French boxer Victor ‘K.O.’ Marchand. He followed that with victories against American Gus Christie and Welshman Fred Dyer. Darcy’s record stood at 29-3.
He next fought for the World Middleweight title against American Jeff Smith. The referee awarded the fight to Smith when Darcy protested a low blow with a high voice.
Four victories followed, two of which saw Darcy evening the score against Fritz Holland. The next fight was again for the Middleweight title and Jeff Smith was again the opponent. This time, Smith was caught in the act and disqualified in the second round for a blow to the groin. History does not reveal if it was all his opponents’ groins or only Darcy’s that held such a strong attraction for Smith.
Darcy successfully defended his Middleweight Title five more times, all in Sydney, against various opponents, thrice by TKO and twice by decision. Three wins followed, one a defense of his Middleweight crown.
Darcy’s record stood at 43-4 when he squared off against fellow countryman Harold Hardwick on 19 February 1916. This bout saw Darcy moving up in class to contend for the Australian Heavyweight title. He needed only seven rounds to take the crown. He defended his title just over a month later against another Aussie pugilist, Les O’Donnell.
He next fought American George ‘K.O’ Brown, but K.O. Brown did not fare any better than the French K.O. boxer, Marchant.
A Romanian boxer, Alex Costica, attempted to take Darcy’s middleweight title away in Sydney on 13 May 1916. Darcy administered such extensive damage to Costica that the police stepped in to put a stop to the fight in the fifth round.
Les Darcy fought five more times, including his last bout against American George Chip, a victory by knockout on 30 September 1916. He beat Buck Crouse, followed by two victories over Dave Smith for successful heavyweight championship defenses. American Jimmy Clabby was the next to last to lose to Darcy.
After the DQ loss to Jeff Smith on 23 January 1915, Darcy would never lose again. He ran off 22 consecutive to conclude his career at 52-4. Thirty-two of his victories were by knockout, 19 by decision. He was never knocked out in any of his four losses.
His death from the aforementioned cause came less than eight months later, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993, the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1998, and the Australian Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003.
In something few other boxers can claim, he was the subject of, of all things, an opera titled The Flight of Les Darcy in 2001. It turns out that as part of Darcy’s preparation for fights, he played the violin. How playing the violin would help a boxer get ready for a fight is anyone’s guess, as is whether or not he played wearing boxing gloves.